Commentary: St Kitts’ Ocean Terrace Inn Thriving Under Chris Ghita’s Superb Management

Chris Ghita’s journey to his current position as General manager of the St Kitts Ocean Terrace Inn actually started some twenty-three years ago. He’d entered the industry as a waiter, but quickly worked his way up through different departments, taking no days off. He says that back then his overall objective was simply to understudy various departments, their roles and respective job tasks. He was always trying to master all the different skill sets, so that he could one day be in a position to teach any of those roles from a solid position of accumulated knowledge.

That journey which started on the beautiful island of Grenada, at the Spice Isle & Beach Resort, progressed into further industry educational knowledge accumulation from programmes at universities and colleges in various parts of the globe, Grenada, Sweden, even here in Toronto at the George Browne College.

At age 29, having spent nine years at Spice Isle in different capacities, Chris Ghita became the Caribbean region’s youngest ever hotel General Manager when he was appointed to that position at Grenada’s Mount Cinnamon Beach Resort, a luxury turnkey property. From there he would go on to manage several other prestigious Caribbean properties, including St Lucia’s Village Inn, Palm Island in the Grenadines, Antigua’s Galley Bay Resort & Spa, as well as a couple of Sandals’ properties in Jamaica. His most favorite memories of those days are from his Grenadines’ Palm Island stint. He describes the island as a 134 acre slice of paradise, where the scenery was so magnificent it will now be remembered for the rest of his life. His daily routine there was often punctuated by sightings of pigeons, seagulls and sharks and of lobsters crawling alongside turtles in the depths of its crystal clear waters.

Chris’ initial career dream had actually been to become a pilot, as from ever since he’d known himself he’d always wanted to fly planes. In pursuit of that dream he’d enrolled in the island’s pilot training school. As faith and fortune would dictate however, his mother simply didn’t have the financial resources to support his studies, so instead she encouraged him to seek employment as a means of earning himself the revenues necessary to pursue his passion.

His employment search led him to a twenty-bedroom hotel, where he told the owner that he wanted to wait tables. Asked if he had any experience his response was “I think I do for I’ve seen others do it and I’m sure I can!”

After a one-week trial, he was officially on the payroll earning a wage at the tender age of 17. He reveled in the exposure and opportunity to interact with so many different people and found himself always enthusiastically engaged in attempts to understand not only their respective cultures, but also their abilities to afford the vacation journeys they had made from wherever they came, all the way to the Caribbean. He also became very interested in traveling to the very places where those he was meeting had come from.

Having come to St Kitts’ Ocean Terrace Inn with his small family background, raised as he had been by his single Mom, Chris Ghita has always known what it means to be humble. Throughout his now illustrious hotel management career journey, he’s always said to himself that the greatest importance would be for him to pass his immense acquired knowledge onto others. As a small boutique hotel and as a part of St Kitts’ only recent emergence as a tourism entity, OTI has given him the opportunity to work hands on with others who can definitely benefit from his experience and knowledge.

His definition of OTI as a boutique hotel paints it as a small, intimate, less than fifty-room property, it actually hosts 34, offering personalized services, environmentally best friendly practices, hands on management, in addition to the ability to meet and exceed expectations as a direct result of its close knit family type work environment. In his opinion, OTI’s core customer is the region’s business community. 60% of OTI’s business comes from the Caribbean corporate community, particularly government ministries, the financial sector and sporting bodies.

As St Kitts’ only boutique hotel offering luxury accommodation, Ocean Terrace Inn has no real competitors in its class. The property offers outstanding meeting facilities for study groups, conferences and banquets. Coupled with its two spectacular restaurants, the Verandah and the newly renovated Fisherman’s Wharf, these combinations make OTI an overly attractive option for Caribbean corporate hosting.

OTI’s rooms are outstandingly spectacular in their luxurious spaciousness. Indeed if judged on size alone they would rank right alongside the very best that many of the region’s larger hotel’s have to offer. Until the recent establishment of the Park Hyatt, OTI’s was actually the newest inventory of rooms on St Kitts.

Chris says that the major challenge facing OTI, and indeed the St Kitts’ entire hotel industry, is the availability, or lack thereof, of required skill sets. St Kitts is now still emerging as a tourism destination, which oftentimes makes it difficult to find personnel that can provide the right fit for the respective hotels’ needs.

hat necessitates the hiring of professionals who have are equipped with both training and management experience and who are willing to engage in coaching and mentoring their associates and subordinates.

High turnover has also been a challenge in specific departments; kitchens and maintenance are among those which have proven to be problematic in that regard. That has forced Chris and his OTI Management group to reach out to St Kitts’ two existing vocational schools in attempts to establish partnerships that will allow students to participate in continuous year round internship attachments at the hotel.

This allows participating young students to see themselves as part of the hotels’ integral plans and fosters a relationship whereby they come to regard OTI as their second home. Starting with part-time jobs at the hotel and upon completion of their studies becoming full-time employees.

OTI now enjoys an annual occupancy rate of approximately 65%, which is by no means satisfactory to Chris as its General manager. As a boutique hotel with relatively limited room inventory however, OTI is often challenged by large group requests, frequently having to refer the excess guest numbers to other properties. Plans are however afoot to use the still available space on the property to construct condo type buildings, which would serve to significantly increase the hotel’s room capacity.

That would allow OTI to take advantage of big group, large event opportunities that it presently has to forsake. The possibilities are for OTI to add another 30 odd rooms that would result in a total room capacity of 65. With that number of rooms available Chris believes that OTI’s average annual occupancy rate would easily climb to the around 85%. It would also allow OTI to become more attractive to leisure-oriented guests.

With regards to the challenge of becoming more attractive to leisure-oriented guests, according to Chris OTI’s lack of direct beach access is both a threat and an opportunity. The threat being the perception that OTI is not adequately beach equipped to serve leisure guests. The opportunity is that OTI does provide a to and from shuttle service that takes guests directly to one of the island’s best beaches, which is only approximately ten miles away. An existing service that can obviously be better promoted as a means of allaying such previously mentioned negative perceptions.

Although OTI is conveniently located within a ten-minute drive of the island’s international airport, it is also slap bang within the commercial district. That makes noise pollution an inescapable reality, especially during the carnival season. The silver lining to that dark cloud is the hotel’s attractiveness to carnival enthusiasts, particularly those visiting from other parts of the Caribbean and even at times North America, the numbers of which are ever increasing.

As a small, newly refurbished property OTI cannot ever afford to take its guests for granted. Acceptance of this reality is evidenced by Chris and his management team’s emphasis on data accumulation. An opinion feedback card is not only presented, but its importance is also fully explained, to all visitors immediately upon their arrival, The information gathered from those cards is then used to analyze any apparent trends in visitor origins patterns. More importantly it is also used to identify areas of needed improvements.

The results provided by OTI’s systematic data gathering activities are taken to the hotel’s training sites They are often used by Chris himself to provide staff with direct insights to how their performance in their respective sectors has been received by visitors and facilitates their direct understanding of what improvements are necessary. As part of his CEO responsibilities Chris engages in bi-weekly staff training sessions.

Having won the award for being the second most sustainable hotel in the entire Caribbean, behind an Aruba based property, OTI’s active involvement with members of the local meat farming and agricultural industries allows it to acquire supplies, at pricing that makes its restaurant offerings highly competitive with other properties on the island. One relationship with a local pig farmer allows the hotel to provide separated waste as food for the pigs. The farmer also takes shredded paper from OTI’s offices for use as compost on his farm. In return he sells his pigs to OTI at a cost that is roughly 50% less than that offered to any of his other customers, including of course OTI’s hotel industry competitors.

OTI’s food service menus are comprised almost exclusively of locally produced items. The only exception being at times when the farmer’s produce has been in sufficiently short supply as to warrant the use of imported or processed food items. That’s the hotel’s way of contributing to the further growth of the island’s economy.
OTI’s prices compare favorably to those of other competitive restaurants. Dining in St Kitts is characterized by local patronization. Kittitians love dining out and seemingly do so at every opportunity. Birthdays which are of huge significance to most Kittitians and are often celebrated by dining out with all the trimmings.
OTI stands out in St Kitts because of its emphasis on local development, the partnerships it has created with local farmers and agro processors, its engagement in environmental best practices both on and off site, as well as its exploration of sponsorship opportunities with schools. The hotel constantly provides support to young adults in the pursuit of their interests.

All this stems from Chris inherent view of himself as a strident advocate for youth advancement and the constant pursuit of opportunities for sustainable development. He puts that into practice by inculcating locals into everything that’s being done at OTI, through proffered training and development. Everyone that falls under his management umbrella is provided with the exposure that will allow them to met and exceed the expectations others have of them, as well as those they have of themselves.

Towards that end he has often given school teachers free weekend stays at the hotel that have included educational exposure to key areas of the property’s operations, including inventory control, reservations and sales. Such complimentary stays have also been hosted by the hotels Employee and Manager of the Month. In so doing Chris has tapped into his Grenadian experience where such practices are common within the island’s hotel industry.

Chris sees education of the industry as a process, but says that it was never been his intention to stay at OTI any longer than is necessary for him to achieve the objectives he’d established at the time of his appointment. He’s already developed his succession plan and identified members of his staff who can continue the process after he’s left.

His succession plan for OTI is not as yet as strong as he would like it to be; hence he’s already overstayed the two-year time frame he usually gives himself at each property he manages. His objective is to have a system in place that will allow for the seamless management of the hotel’s sustainable development, so he plans on staying on for a while to ensure that is in place before he departs for his next journey, which will most like be in the form of a training consultancy.

That will be his way of ensuring that the outstanding knowledge and expertise he’s accumulated over his now twenty-three-hotel industry journey is indeed passed on to as many others as possible. Not only for the benefit of St Kitts but also for the entire Caribbean region.